This month

Fruit & Vegetable Growing Guide for October

October is the last of the hectic months on the vegetable plot. There’s little to sow and plant but still a fair amount to harvest and store for winter. The first frosts will kill all but hardy plants.

Sowing & Planting

October Allotment

An allotment in October sunshine

Over-wintering broad beans can go in from the middle of the month to provide an early crop next year. They’re very hardy but don’t like sitting in water so on heavy soils like at Grange Lane they can be a gamble and it might be safer to just sow early next year.

The last sowing of beet leaf spinach can be made early in the month and you may be able to just fit in some Chinese cabbage.

October is the last chance for planting out Japanese onion sets. These are hardy, short-daylight onions so will be ready about a month earlier next year than other onions. It’s worth protecting them with a cloche or netting until well established so that pigeons don’t pull them from the ground. They don’t store well so don’t plant too many.

Planting out garlic can wait until November but there’s no harm in getting it done in October before the weather turns nasty.

General Garden Tasks

There’s not a lot to do except for keeping weeds in check. If you’ve got Brussels Sprouts it’s worth checking they’re firm in the ground as wind-rock breaks the tiny hairs on the roots that take in the nutrients. Earthing up a few inches around the stems and treading in or staking should be enough. In very windy areas put up a wind break. If the leaves are looking a little yellow, apply a high nitrogen liquid feed around each plant and this should perk them up enough to ensure good firm sprouts for Christmas.

Remove yellowed leaves from other brassicas. They are of no use to the plant and will encourage botrytis to develop.

Green manure crops like mustard should be dug in now. Generally Mustard produces a lot of foliage which can be cut with shears about a foot (30cm) off the ground. Compost the cut foliage and dig in the rest.

Dig over ground as it becomes vacant. Leave clods intact and the freezing / thawing action of winter weather will break them up, giving you a fine tilth to work with in the spring. Spread manure or compost over the surface and leave the worms to work it into the soil.  If adding lime do not spread manure at the same time.

October and November are good months for serious digging. The deeper the dig, the more fertile the soil and the better the crop. To double dig, remove a trench and break up the sub-soil with a fork. Then add a good layer of manure or compost and place the soil from the next trench on top. This will greatly improve your soil.

Now is the time to concentrate on compost making. The last of the bulk foliage should be available to build a proper heap rather than a waste pile. Empty one bin into another, layer with lime and nitrogen rich manure as it builds. This will ensure decomposition gets off to a good start.

Consider where you intend to plant next year’s runner beans and start a bean trench, digging it out and lining with newspapers (six sheets thick) before adding compostable kitchen waste, lawn clippings etc and covering with soil.

Fruit

This is a good month to prune blackcurrants, redcurrants and gooseberries. Raspberries and blackberries need cutting back and tying in. These early winter months are ideal for planting out new stock. Make sure the ground is well prepared and add a good 500gr of bonemeal per plant to the base of the planting hole, forked in. This will slowly release nitrogen over the next year or two to give stronger plants sooner.

Harvest

Any remaining maincrop potatoes should come out. When the haulm (leaves) starts dying back, cut it off and leave the potatoes for a couple of weeks. This will make the skins set and prevent any potato blight spores from the haulm infecting the tubers. Wait for a sunny, dry day to dig up the potatoes, brush off excess soil and let them dry before storing in hessian or paper sacks in a frost free, dark shed.

The last of the beans should be picked now, compost the foliage but leaving the roots with their nitrogen full nodules in the soil will act as a fertiliser.

Maincrop carrots should be dug up to be stored in sand or peat but leave parsnips in the ground as they’ll be sweeter after a frost.

Drumhead cabbages that are ready should be harvested. They keep remarkably well in a frost-free shed but be aware that a slug that may be lurking under the leaves!

Any green tomatoes on outdoor plants should be picked before the frost gets them. Green tomatoes store quite well in cool conditions and slowly ripen or hasten the ripening process by leaving them in a tray with a ripe banana on a sunny windowsill. Otherwise make green tomato chutney.